How to Cook a Turkey

Wondering how to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving this year? Look no further.

How to Cook a Turkey

A perfectly-browned, crispy turkey is usually the centerpiece of most Thanksgiving meals, but a lot of hard work goes into putting such a masterpiece on the table. To make sure your dinner goes flawlessly this season, we put together the ultimate guide with step-by-step instructions so you know exactly how to do everything from thawing to carving your prized bird.

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1 Thaw the Turkey

Make sure to plan ahead, because it takes 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey to thaw. According to the USDA, a thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for one to two days before cooking, and there's a great pound-by-pound chart to ensure you give your bird enough time to thaw before Thanksgiving.

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days
  • 20 to 24 pounds — 5 to 6 days

If you're in a rush, you can also thaw the turkey under cold water (two to 12 hours depending on the size) or use the microwave, but neither is recommended.

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2 Get Your Supplies

To cook your turkey, you'll need:

  • A turkey (imagine that!)
  • Low-sodium broth (or butter)
  • Roasting pan
  • Turkey baster or brush
  • Food thermometer
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3 Prepare the Turkey

If you're thawing your turkey in the fridge, remove it at least an hour before cooking. Take the giblets out of the turkey (they'll probably be in a plastic bag) and then give your turkey some flavor. Lightly pepper or salt the bird (or use whichever seasoning you prefer) to make the skin nice and crispy.

When it comes to stuffing, it's not safe to actually cook the mixture in the turkey. The USDA recommends cooking the stuffing in a separate casserole dish.

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4 Cook the Turkey

Now here's the fun part. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees, put a light coat of broth over the turkey with the baster, and put the turkey in the oven for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, reduce the heat to 250 degrees and cook the turkey at an additional 20 minutes for each pound.

The whole turkey is safe to eat when the internal temperature is a minimum of 165 degrees. The USDA says the best place to check the temperature is in the innermost part of the thigh and wing, and the thickest part of the breast.

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5 Side Note...

How to Cook a Turkey

Just make sure you don't pull a Clark Griswold and cook the turkey so long it's totally dry inside. (OK, OK, we know — it wasn't his fault.)

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6 Carve the Turkey

You did it! You cooked a turkey! Now the only thing you need to do is eat it. Let the turkey stand for at least 20 minutes before carving it to allow the juices to set, then follow along with the helpful video above to get the most out of your Thanksgiving bird.

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